By Hamid Dabashi, 26 Khordad 1388/16 June 2009
It seems to me that the only way that this amorphous movement that is now unfolding in Iran can have a snowball chance in hell to succeed is to become a systematic and comprehensive non-violent collective act of civil disobedience. To become a more determined and directed social action, this movement will have to assume multiple dimensions beyond a succession of demonstrations in the streets, which must accompany a simultaneous act of discrediting the counter-demonstrations that the regime organizes.
The Majlis might emerge as one crucial site of contestation-though it is too early to tell. Today in the Majlis, the courageous Qazvin Deputy, Qodratollah Alikhani denounced the way the presidential election has been conducted. This was by no means the sentiment of the Majlis in general, for as Alikhani spoke, Ahmadinejad's supporters were interrupting him, and some 220 of them had in fact written a public letter and congratulated him on his victory. But nevertheless some 52 deputies have summoned the Interior Minister Mr. Mahsouli to come to the Majlis and explain what happened yesterday during the demonstration and why demonstrators were shot at, injured, and even killed. These 52 deputies have also been joined by Speaker of the House Mr. Larijani, who today condemned the attacks on the student dormitories as well as another attack on Sobhan apartment complex at 2:30 AM on 14th June-presumably because defiant chants of Allahu Akbar was coming from there. This may all be parliamentary maneuvering to no particular public avail, but something more might be brewing there. It remains to be seen.
Perhaps more important than the Majlis in the snowballing of civil unrest is the demonstration of a group of doctors and nurses at Rasul Akram Hospital in Tehran. I saw an eyewitness video made by a mobile phone and dispatched globally. What we see here is the medical staff of this hospital, while wearing their uniform, coming out of the hospital, forming an impromptu rally, chanting Allahu Akbar and then talking to people in the street about the casualties they had treated last night.
Doctors and nurses are protesting at Rasul Akram hospital in Tehran on June 16. One of nurses is shouting "8 people died in this hospital last night". A board (in Persian) says "8 dead, 28 wounded"
One of them, a woman physician or nurse, came forward with a sign in her hand on which had been written in Persian (obviously not for foreign correspondents but for immediate public benefit) that the Emergency ward of Rasul Akram Hospital had treated 28 people with gunshot wounds, of which 8 have been martyred-and then concluded by asking "Tonight and tomorrow night??" Meaning how many will be murdered? Ordinary people soon gathered around and began applauding the medical staff. Then a male nurse or physician came forward and said to the public that this is only the statistics in this particular hospital, meaning there must be more in others. My point here is not to play the number game about casualties. But to point to the planned or spontaneous act of the staff of this hospital to walk out and engage with the public.
Iranian national soccer team players wearing green wristband during Iran-South Korea game on Wednesday.
If such quiet and dignified civil unrest were to continue to unfold, things might assume different proportions. The BBC reported today that the chancellor of Shiraz University had resigned, and that the president of Tehran university has also expressed his concerns publicly. Meanwhile the prominent Iranian vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian had issued a statement and asked the national television NOT to broadcast his patriotic songs. They were composed and sung in entirely different circumstances, he said in his open letter, inappropriate for what is now happening in Iran. This is in obvious defiance of a national television that is universally perceived as the main propaganda machinery of the regime and its choice president. Shajarian is an exceedingly popular and deeply loved public figure, and his admonition of the national television carries weight. In the same vein, I saw pictures of famous Iranian footballers sporting the color of green as their wrist band and also included in the jersey they were wearing.
These are the signs we should be looking for in days and weeks ahead. The Open expression of solidarity with the movement in multiple public domains will put it outside official control. They are rounding up the usual suspects of the reformist movement. But the movement must now become more universal. The arrest and at times immediate release of prominent reformists like Abtahi, now an advisor to Karrubi, and Said Hajjarian, a prominent theorist and tactician of the reformist movement and the target of an assassination attempt in March 2000, testifies to a certain degree of panic on part of the regime, or else the commencement of a systematic crackdown. In either case, it is the initially amorphous disposition of the movement beyond the reformist figures that will have a wider effect.
Counter-demonstrations on behalf of Ahmadinejad are of course well on the agenda. Today Sepah-e Mohammad Rasul Allah/The Army of Muhammad the Messenger of God called for a pro-Ahmadinejad rally at 4 PM Tehran time at Vali Asr Square in order to respond to yesterday's anti-Ahmadinejad demonstration. Anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrators also had a rally that moved towards the Jam-e Jam where the Iranian national television headquarters is located. Mousavi issued a statement to this rally, asked them to be vigilant, law-abiding, and peaceful, held the officials responsible for their wellbeing, and reiterated his request for a nationwide peaceful demonstration. The green color and Allahu Akbar remain the sign and the principal slogan of the movement.
The international pressure of course remains quite crucial. I called Paris to talk to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who is now actively campaigning on behalf of Musavi's cause, but learned from his wife Marziyeh Meshkini that he has gone to Brussels (along with Marjane Satrapi) to speak to the European Parliament asking them not to recognize Ahmadinejad's election. Later I also watched a video of Makhmalbaf giving a speech at a rally in Paris urging Iranians abroad to contact the governments of their respective countries and urge them not to recognize the validity of this election.
Ahmadinejad is currently in Russia attending a meeting as the Iranian president. I also saw a circulated email asking for demonstration in front of Russian embassies condemning their reception of Ahmadinejad as president. According to Financial Times, Russia and China have recognized the validity of the election, while France has expressed strong reservation, and the US is threading a very thin line. Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria, and Venezuela, according to official outlets in Iran have congratulated Ahmadinejad. Here is the crucial task of Iranians in places like Australia, India, Japan, the US, European capitals, Canada, and above all Arab and Muslim countries to pressure their governments if possible, or alert the public opinion at the very least, that this election was rigged from the get go, from its very commencement, from the moment that the Guardian Council gets to decide who can run and who cannot. The rest is now an academic exercise in futility. I have a forthcoming opinion piece that CNN.com asked me to write in which I talk in detail about what is now a "social fact" in Iran, that the election was rigged.
As the movement thus unfolds so does our positions in reading it becomes more clear. Richard Seymour has rightly taken issue with me regarding my statement about Mousavi having the makeup of a Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. I am happy he did, for it gives me an opportunity to explain what I mean. I believe, as I have now said on many occasions, that the only chance that this movement has is as a non-violent collective act of civil disobedience. I am well aware of the dead skeletons in Mousavi's past (do please cast a cursory glance at what I teach and what I have written for now almost half a century-yes I wrote my first letter of protest to the governor of Khuzestan when I was eight; though yes, my mother dictated it to me: ) and have referred to them in the CNN piece I just mentioned, as I in fact also mentioned it briefly yesterday on GRITTV with Laura Flanders and David Barsamian. In my CNN piece I also mentioned that the last major student uprising was in fact during the presidency of Khatami in 1999, two years afar his landslide victory. Though I voted for Mousavi as the best possible candidate available to us and in solidarity with the nascent movement inside Iran, holding my nose the same way I held it when I voted for Obama, I am no reformer, nor do I shoot from the hip, as it were, when it comes to my careful reading of what is unfolding in front of us. When I see hundreds of thousands of innocent people peacefully marching in the streets against the firearm of a brutal and bruised Islamic Republic, I fear the worse. In my opinion, it is too early to tell how the interplay between Musavi, et. al. and the volcano they have unleashed will work out. Again as I said in my CNN piece today, Mousavi is not all that this movement wants, nor is Mousavi totally in control of the movement. There is a dialectic between the two, facing the thuggish brutalities of the regime as they go along. To me the only way that this movement can come to a meaningful fruition (not just in securing a recount or even a re-election but in fact addressing the wider range of civil liberties) is if it aspires to a non-violent collective act of civil disobedience that from Gandhi to MLK has always needed a visionary leadership. I am not sure if Mousavi or Khatami are those figures. But I do believe that Mousavi in particular has the public demeanor and disposition of becoming one, the "make up" of such a leadership-as has in fact Akbar Ganji if he were in Iran now. Someone of that caliber might be able to rise to the occasion. So for the record, my solidarity is with nothing and nobody other than the those exemplary and courageous young and old men and women in the streets, with the movement itself, as it unfolds-and in what ever way it opts to define itself and its immediate and distant goals.
Beyond this clarification, there is one other crucial issue that I must emphasize here. A key and critical question at this point is the emergence of a new language of revolt that will correspond to the realities of this movement and not reduced to cliché-ridden, tired, and old assumptions. Any act of theorization of this movement, what exactly is it, and to what extend it will go, must be exceedingly cautious, gradual, and in correspondence with the manner in which it is unfolded. But of one thing we can be sure. We cannot allow this movement to be assimilated backward into the existing delusional discourses-weather from the so-called opposition forces outside or the dominant discourses inside Iran. Here I will give two examples. The first example is from the "oppositional" forces outside Iran. Yesterday I saw yet another inane email from Reza Pahlavi expressing his royal solidarity with the demonstrators. Obviously His Royal Idiocy, and the sycophant band of good-for-nothings that have gathered around him seem to be clinically delusional and under the impression that anyone on this side of sanity cares what he and his criminal dynasty think of anything. As an Iranian citizen, Reza Pahlavi is of course entitled to his opinion about anything. But in matters of politics only after he drops any and all ludicrous claims to that bloody throne that he and his criminal father and even more thuggish grandfather left behind when they brutalized and swindled that nation and fled Iran.
The same is true about the dominant Islamist discourse inside Iran, even when, or perhaps particularly when, it is formulated by the progressive clerics. Yesterday I heard Mohsen Kadivar interviewed on BBC Persian. In conversation with an anchorperson, Kadivar gave an extended explication about how the evident irregularities of this election constitute a breach of the public confidence and is thus a violation of justice and as a result it is incumbent upon juridical authorities to opine on the matter. Now, I know, have met, read, and have a deep affection and even admiration for Mohsen Kadivar for the numerous occasions he has spoken truth to that brutal power called the Islamic Republic. But there is a crucial issue of which he seems to be entirely oblivious and the time to clear and settle it is right now. This movement cannot be branded in any received terms within Iranian political culture, and for one thing it cannot be, yet again, categorically Islamized, juridicalized, Fiqhified. Let me explain.
Even in the chimerical concoction called an "Islamic Republic," we are the citizens of a republic and NOT mere subjects of a medieval jurisprudence, for it makes no difference if we are the physical subjects of a tyrant monarch or the metaphoric subjects of a medieval jurisprudence-in both we are denied historical agency and the site of our public reason. Unless and until Mohsen Kadivar, as a genuinely progressive jurist, understands this simple fact we will never ever get anywhere. I for one, again, to repeat, as a citizen of a republic, could not care less what he or any other progressive jurist thinks of my rights as a citizen. That juridical opinion is irrelevant to me, with all due respect. As a Muslim I deny him, and with him the best and the worst of them all together, the authority to transform my agential autonomy as a citizen of a republic into a juridical trope in his (however progressive or retrograde) jurisprudence. To me, when it comes to this militant or soft, aggressive or gentle, brutal or banal over-juridicalization of Iranian political culture, there is no difference between Mohsen Kadivar and Mesbah Yazdi. They both speak the same juridical language, though from two conservative and liberal ends of it. As a citizen, I no longer wish to be at the mercy of either the criminal backwardness of Mesbah Yazdi or the open-minded liberalism of Mohsen Kadivar. What part of that simple point is incomprehensible? We are in the depth of this misery called the "Islamic Republic" that we are precisely because these people, the best of them, namely Mohsen Kadivar, have made a name and a reputation for themselves and formulated their positions in absence of any contrapuntal position by people who do not think like they do. They have degenerated an entire republic, and with it a public domain, and with it a public reason, into the topography of a variegated jurisprudence from which there is no exit.
Kadivar tells the skeptical anchorperson of BBC Persian that Ulama are infinitely more important in Iran than intellectuals, artists, or even athletes. Now, personally I believe he is entirely self-delusional at this point in history to think that way. But the point of the argument is not between his thinking that he and his ilk are more important to Iranian society by virtue of being a Shi'i jurist than say Bahram Beiza'i or Mahmoud Dolatabadi. The point is that within my sense of the republic in which we must ultimately hope to live there is plenty of room for any jurist of any stripe as a citizen. But in the medieval jurisprudence of a Shi'i jurist, however progressive and open-minded he might be, there is absolutely not a niche for me as a citizen-for that jurisprudence I am always already transmuted into a juridical subject, a jurisprudential trope, a mere dialogical trope in his syllogism.
Mohsen Kadivar looks at me and does not see a citizen; he sees a mere subject of his law. In other words, the notion of the public reason as the cornerstone of citizenry has not ever crossed the mind of these jurists. I am a Muslim, Mr. Kadivar, as you well know, a Shi'i Muslim. I have nothing but love and admiration and utter respect for my parental religion. Since 9/11 I walk and proudly proclaim myself a Muslim in a country and context now Islamophobic to the marrow of its bone. But not all Iranians are Muslims, or Shi'i, or believing or practicing. There are Baha'i Iranians, as there are Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and plain old atheists and agonistic Iranians-and God bless them al! But the notion of a republic, Mr. Kadivar, could not care less to what god we may opt to pray or at other times scream out loud upon the dead corpse of a young body just murdered by agents of the "Islamic Republic" and cry our curses. Unless and until you, Mr. Kadivar, the best that our medieval jurisprudence has produced, come to grips with this very simple fact, even this massive movement that is unfolding in front of our eyes will yet again be creatively, kindly, and quite generously Islamized, once again.
We have all been silenced, forced into exile, and by virtue of the absence of freedom of expression in the Islamic Republic never had a chance openly, politely, and respectfully disagree with this violent or gentle over-juridicalization of our political culture. So Mr. Kadivar, there are perfectly sane (Aqil) and mature (Baliq) Iranians who, with all due respect, could not give a hoot what the most progressive, open-minded, generous-hearted, Shi'i jurists think of the current crisis we face. Over this public space, in which we live as citizens, your jurisprudence has no jurisdiction. You are, of course, as an Iranian (just like Reza Pahlavi) entitled to whatever position you may have on the matter. But please check your medieval jurisprudence at the door and speak in plain language of our common citizenry, with the public reason with which we need to build our future republic. Thank you!
About the author: Hamid Dabashi is the author of Iran: A People Interrupted. His daily dairy and other commentary on the current crisis in Iran can be read at: www.hamiddabashi.com
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